What a difference a colon makes (to academic citations)

July 22nd, 2016

ColonFollowing our recent report on the (report of the) finding that Short Paper Titles Tend to Have a Longer Reach (Improbable Research, June 16th 2016) we now inform about (research about) another possible method that academic authors might use to lever increased attention for their paper – with the disarmingly simple trick of adding a colon   :   somewhere in the title. See: ‘What a difference a colon makes: How superficial factors influence subsequent citation’ in: Scientometrics, March 2014, Volume 98, Issue 3, pp 1601-1615, by Maarten van Wesel, Sally Wyatt, and Jeroen ten Haaf.

[1] The paper, which notably has a colon in its own title, has (at the time of writing) been cited 12 times.
[2] This format is currently not in vogue :—
[3] Colonic recommendations from the late Professor Larry Trask,
(as maintained by the Department of Informatics, University of Sussex).

Also see: ‘Ellipsis in English Literature’

Counting Things that Could Exist (philosophically)

July 21st, 2016

Prof-RosefeldProfessor Tobias Rosefeldt, of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany, counts things that could exist – in particular, he specifically does so in a new paper for The Philosophical Quarterly.

“Consider a tailor who works for a company that sells business suits as well as hipster suits. She has two business trousers and two business jackets in front of her and wonders in which combinations she should arrange them and whether she should dye the resulting suits pinkish in order to produce hipster suits or not. She asks herself the following question: ‘How many possible suits could I make by combining and dying the two jackets and the two trousers?’ “

Note that the imagined suits in the imagined example don’t actually exist, nevertheless, is it possible to ‘count’ them? The author bears in mind previous work on imaginary suit-counting, particularly the writings of Timothy Williamson ((1998). ‘Bare Possibilia’, in Erkenntnis, 48, 257–73.)

“Williamson assumes that a suit is constituted by a jacket and a pair of trousers that are originally hung together and that at most one possible suit can be made of a given jacket and a pair of trousers. He then shows that, given two jackets J1 and J2 and two pairs of trousers T1 and T2, there are four possible suits that could be made from J1, J2, T1 and T2, although it is impossible that there are ever more than two suits that are made from the set.”

The professor comes to a number of conclusions regarding such possibilia, arguing that (amongst other things) such cases –

“[…] should be understood as cases of quantification not over individual possible objects but rather over kinds of objects, some of which do not actually have instances.”

See: ‘Counting Things that Could Exist’ preprint in: The Philosophical Quarterly, May 16, 2016.

BONUS free thought experiment. Based on the author’s example regarding the numerical possibilia of  ‘Tomato Salads’, discuss how many could exist. [resauces]

Do Cats Sometimes Pay Some Attention to Their Owners? [Podcast 73]

July 20th, 2016

The whether and when and how often of cats possibly paying attention to their owners is the main thing in this week’s Improbable Research podcast. Oh, and lots of Jean Berko Gleason and her cat, Foster.

SUBSCRIBE on Play.it, iTunes, or Spotify to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams  — with dramatic readings by Boston University psychologist Jean Berko Gleason — tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler or the shadowy Bruce Petschek perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, on the CBS Play.it web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

Colorful names of bolus material: Superflab

July 19th, 2016

Investigator Terry Sarnoff writes: “My nomination for your Colorful Names of Bolus Material contest is Superflab.”

Prior to receiving this note from investigator Sarnoff, we were not aware that we have colorful Names of Bolus Material contest. Here is a detail from a promotional flyer for Superflab, sent, along with that note, by investigator Sarnoff:


Waterside properties – the financial ups and downs.

July 18th, 2016

The question : ‘If your house is at risk of flooding, does that make it worth less?’ – has been answered by investigators at the Department of Economics, East Carolina University, US. The research team used a Semiparametric Hedonic Price Function Model combined with Geographic Information System data on National Flood Insurance Program flood zones to evaluate hazards in the coastal housing market of Carteret County, North Carolina. The results were clearcut :

“[…] location within a flood zone lowers property value.“

The team’s paper was presented in the March 2008 issue of the Journal of Risk & Insurance.


Before jumping (in)to any financially-significant conclusions though, property owners and potential buyers might like to see a previous study – from the same (lead) author, Profesor Okmyung Bin. Back in 2005, he carried out a somewhat related research project – again examining the effects of proximity to water (in particular open water wetlands) on property values.

“The results indicate that proximity to open water wetlands has a positive association with property values […]“

See: A semiparametric hedonic model for valuing wetlands in: Applied Economics Letters, Volume 12, Issue 10.

[The illustration depicts the devatating Burchardi flood of 1634.]